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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Oct. 24, 2008

ISURF reinvests in university research

by Mike Krapfl, News Service

The Iowa State University Research Foundation (ISURF) has returned $42 million in royalty and investment revenue to Iowa State University inventors, colleges and affiliated research centers in the last 10 fiscal years.

That includes $13.8 million that went to Iowa State inventors; $11.4 million to Iowa State colleges, the Institute for Physical Research and Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory; and $14 million to support the research foundation and related programs. Companies have sent another $2.8 million to Iowa State for further development of technologies invented on campus. Those funds pass through ISURF and on to the researchers.

The $42 million total includes $9.6 million in distributions for the single year that ended June 30: $4.5 million to Iowa State inventors, $4.1 million to academic and research units; $995,000 to ISURF and $50,000 to researchers for additional development of their technologies.

Kenneth Kirkland, ISURF executive director, said the FY2008 results were the best over the last 10 years because of a spike in research foundation income.

According to the research foundation's revenue-sharing formula:

  • One-third of net licensing income goes to the inventor
  • One-third goes to the inventor's academic or research unit
  • One-third goes to support the work of the research foundation and the Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer

"We're happy to be able to contribute this money," Kirkland said. "One of the best things we can do is invest in the university."

New research fund

In addition to that revenue-sharing, the research foundation in July established a $9.5 million Research and Economic Opportunities Fund in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. The fund is to be used to advance Iowa State's research capabilities. It could, for example, pay to establish labs or purchase equipment for new faculty.

The fund replaces annual grants ISURF had been providing to the office, which currently is led by Ted Okiishi, interim vice president for research and economic development. For example, in FY08, Okiishi said the research foundation provided his office with $1.25 million.

Okiishi said the contributions are a tremendous boost to Iowa State. Last year's grant helped his office provide support for the CyberInnovation Institute, the Nutrition and Wellness Research Center and the Center for Carbon Capturing Crops. It also provided startup packages (ranging from $15,000 to $123,000) for 22 faculty. And it provided money for one faculty retention package.

"These funds have been critical in helping this office strengthen the research and economic development capabilities of the university," Okiishi said.

Leveraging large grants

And Okiishi said that puts Iowa State in a better position to attract major research grants.

He said a good example is the recent announcement that Iowa State will be the home for a new, $18.5 million National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals.

Okiishi said Iowa State engineers have tried to win one of the centers every time the NSF asked for proposals, but had never advanced past the pre-proposal stage. In this latest round, the science foundation invited two Iowa State research teams to submit full proposals.

"This funding has made a difference," Okiishi said. "It helps us to compete for faculty. And once they get here, it allows us to keep our star faculty."

Kirkland emphasized ISURF's dependence on campus researchers to disclose their discoveries to the research foundation.

"We're very grateful to all our inventors," Kirkland said. "We want them to continue to disclose their inventions to us so we can look at their commercial value and see whether they can be patented and licensed."


"This funding has made a difference. It helps us to compete for faculty. And once they get here, it allows us to keep our star faculty."

Ted Okiishi, interim vice president for research and economic development